Never have I considered that my need or desire to write is at all connected to vanity, selfishness, or laziness. Never have I considered that my want to write and express my thoughts is due to a purely self-involved motive that has nothing to do with my consideration of others. I’ve always considered my need to write, at least publicly, a way for others to simply understand the ways in which I think and how my decision process works. But maybe, rooted somewhere deep within my subconscious, is a need to express myself just to express myself, not necessarily to help anyone to understand, just a medium through which I can push the deep workings of my brain onto others. And that’s where George Orwell comes in.
George Orwell, author of Animal Farm, a book that made me feel so discomforted that I will never again read it, yet again has managed to make me feel discomforted. But this time, it’s not about a subject that hasn’t much to do with my own life. Instead, he made me think about my own life and motives in a way that did not make me at all pleased. It worries me that simply because I need to write that I may have a desire “to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death”.
Fortunately, I found some semblance of hope in thinking back to something I learned in my 12th grade AP Biology class – humans have a tendency to categorize. Let me rephrase that, not just a tendency, but a need. It’s the only way that the human brain can make sense of the world. This is why taxonomy, Venn Diagrams, and stereotypes exist. (Observe the below illustration and let hilarity ensue).
Therefore, is it fair enough to say that Orwell’s note that one of writers’ sheer need to write is due to “sheer egoism” is just another way to categorize humans? Or is this truly the main reason that writers write, as Orwell tends to argue? My need to see myself and other writers as good, well-meaning individuals prefers to choose the former.
CTools is down, and with it access to the articles. CTools was up, about two hours ago, during which I had the retrospectively-fortunate opportunity to read “Why I Write,” “Why I Write,” and “Why I Blog,” by George Orwell, Joan Didion, and Andrew Sullivan, respectively.
I suppose in some respects this is a good thing, as I can now focus on my overall impressions of the writings, rather than feeling obliged to go back to each and pick out a quote from there to fill up space here.
In my view, Sullivan’s piece stood above the others in quality as much as it did in length. I appreciated his introduction–complete with personal anecdotes–in which he provided a history of blogging as well as its revolutionary impact on the world of writing. Also interesting were his observations on the differences between the blog writer and the traditional media writer: how the former is less insulated from his readers, and therefore more accountable, than the latter; how ability for instant publication brings out the personality of the former while the lack thereof can stifle that of the latter; how the inevitable spirit of competition among those of the latter corresponds, remarkably, to an equally-necessary spirit of community among those of the former; and how, precisely because of these differences, the former can never replace the latter, and vice versa. Perhaps initially counter-intuitive, Sullivan’s explications of these surprising statements eventually make their veracity obvious, and with it, the answer to the question in his title.
In contrast, neither “Why I Write” essays approached this fundamental question with the same directness as did Sullivan’s “Why I Blog.” Joan Didion’s ending, admittedly, was very clever and the personal background in George Orwell’s introduction very eye-opening. Nevertheless, I think my relative dislike for these pieces when compared to Sullivan’s piece stems from my personal bias as a writer away from wandering personal narratives in freestyle form and toward direct arguments in parallel sentence structure.
We’ll see if that changes as the semester progresses…
Blogging. Hm – what do I know about this encroaching phenomenon? Well for starters, I know that public relations companies seek their approval and alliance (this summer having spent countless hours looking up “hot item” blogs to try and pitch fashion items to). I also know that my overeager aunt sends alerts to everyone in her email contacts upon updating her personal blog. And I know that I have admittedly pondered the idea of starting one myself. However, this “knowledge” if you shall call it has resulted from only a surface level (at best) analysis of what blogging is, what it represents, and how it reflects our society. In a world with a multiplicity of short-lived trends, there must be some underlying communal need among people that has pushed blogging to the forefront of written expression and made it stick. Lucky, I believe Andrew Sullivan has shed some much needed light on my muddled understanding.
Conformity – although we all may like to brag about how free and self-willed our lifestyles are, the reality is that society dominates much of our day to day thinking and actions. If you don’t believe me just think about what you’re wearing, what posters are hanging on your wall, and what brand of laptop you are using. However, like any modern, 21st century individual, we like to push limitations. I find it way too interesting to be ignored how over the past couple of years outlets of self-expression similar to blogging such as twitter, pinterest, and instagram have increased in popularity dramatically. Is this a backlash against conforming societal opinion? Are people feeling more passionately about having an independent voice in a plethora of unheard people? Maybe – just maybe- we subconsciously want to feel like our opinions actually matter to others.
Regulations – talk like this, walk like that, wear this, date him not him, oh how the list goes on and on. One of the most striking comments Sullivan discussed was how blogging “is the spontaneous expression of instant thought” and how the “deadline [for blogging] is now.” Honestly, this spontaneous expression is downright daunting to me as I am sure it is to many others. My whole life I have worked towards always thinking rationally and patiently, and now words like impulsive and erratic are becoming mainstream? No thank you! Yet, at the same time I envy those who find little difficulty speaking freely and openly. I often feel that my reliance on what is accepted and ultimately my deterrence from the unknown has often times hindered my creative capabilities. I love Sullivan’s metaphors – particularly his comparison of the similarities between blogging and extreme sports. He explains that, “blogging is to writing what extreme sports are to athletics: more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive.” Although blogging may result in a level of vulnerability, we ought to take the risk, we ought to feel “alive”.
Think, be free, no restraints, let go. This shall be my motto for the upcoming semester in our writing course. Lastly, when in doubt always remember that if the girl below can express herself, so can you.
Thanks for listening,
I thought reading about why writers write would be interesting because sometimes I have no idea why I like to write. When I am up at 3am finishing a term paper worth 40% of my grade for a class I hate, I definitely don’t like to write. In that situation though, I know exactly why I am writing; for an assignment, for a grade, for a future. But reading these articles reminded me why I like to when I don’t have to write.
Orwell resonated with me most mainly because of his very first paragraph. He states that he felt he liked to write to escape an isolated and undervalued world and create his own. Sometimes I feel that I do similar things; I let my mind wonder when I am bored or alone and just imagine, and then create. Writing is an outlet of my own imagination, where I have complete control. Like Orwell, I tried a variety of different styles of writing through mandatory assignments throughout my schoolwork, but I never knew which I liked because it was never on my own time, so I would forget, or “suppress” the idea I liked writing.
Orwell’s other point that reminded me of my daily thoughts was “I seemed to be making this descriptive effort almost against my will, under a kind of compulsion.” When I am telling a story to my friends, family or whoever, I can never just tell the “long story short.” I like to share every detail, moment, word, action, whatever in my description of events. I subconsciously am always descriptive, which I think makes me more like a writer than realized—I am often just speaking instead of writing.
I used to often “get in trouble” or be told to cut my writing pieces down for being “too wordy” or “overly descriptive.” When I was given prompts that had to be a certain number of words, I never ever on the first try got my piece under the word count. Thinking about this, the restriction of this and restriction of description probably made my writing worse. Of course editing is necessary but sometimes isn’t being wordy or overly descriptive okay? Orwell certainly agreed.
I found Didion’s piece more humorous but not as relatable to me. I understood her thoughts as writing being somewhat like going to a psychiatrist—you get to talk about whatever you want to talk about and impose thoughts on someone and make them listen. She states “ writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” I never really thought of writing in this regard but it is (unfortunately? Ironically? Honestly?) Very true. But is writing narcissistic or therapeutic? I used to jus think it was imaginative.
Looking for inspiration to answer my question in the next reading, Sullivan’s piece was somewhat unrelatable to me. Mainly because, up until now, I have never blogged. Not that I haven’t wanted to, but I am pretty much a daydreamer or a reader, writing my thoughts exclusively on paper. Probably too because I am technologically challenged and blogging always seemed complicated. I am excited to learn it now though as in the 21rst century, it seems pretty essential. I mean after writing this piece and feeling like this was actually enjoyable to write, I’m going to have to agree with Sullivan on this: “From the first few days of using the form, I was hooked.”
“Why I Blog,” by Sullivan, changed my belief that blogs are often solely a way to delve into self and garnish personal attention from the masses because eventually, “you end up writing about yourself”(3). However, Sullivan considers a blog to be more of a conversation between the blogger, the links and the Internet audience. The links provide more information and, “greater accountability, transparency and punctiliousness”(4). Sullivan focuses less on writing fueled by self interest and personal attention and more on the need to enter into a conversation about a given topic.
Sullivan is not exactly objective when it comes to comparing writing or reporting to blogging. Sullivan writes that blogging is “exhilarating literal liberation”(3), stating that bloggers have to “walk the walk of self- correction”(4). He distinguishes differences between the two but also enjoys putting the blogger on a pedestal; as someone “splashing gamely into a subject and daring the sources to come to him”(7) and writing that “blogging is therefore to writing what extreme sports are to athletics”(3).
If bloggers are more daring, George Orwell may want to try blogging, describing his struggles with political accuracy and opinion while keeping within his stylistic aims. Orwell’s blurb about the chapter full of quotations, a reviewer asking, “Why did you put in all this stuff?”(4) could have been solved in blog format with hyperlinks. Out of Orwell’s “four great motives,” three apply to blogging quite clearly, which surprised me, as I hold Orwell in a different category than a blogger. “Sheer egoism,” “historical impulse” and “political purpose” seem to drive blogging as well as writing and the “desire to see things as they are, to find out true facts” seems to be a common thread. Aesthetic enthusiasm at first didn’t seem applicable to blogging, however, in writing to an audience (or to “friends,” as Sullivan describes his readers), a certain aesthetic is most likely used to attract that audience. Aesthetics might also be apparent by just the natural differences of stream of consciousness between bloggers. However, Orwell writing about the “pleasure in the impact of one sound on another, in the firmness of good prose or the rhythm of a good story”(2) highlights what a blog is missing, or what makes it different. The thoroughly thought out prose, rhetoric and story seems very important to Orwell and lacking in the blogging world.
Another variation is the difference between the writing processes. Sullivan discusses in-the-moment thought, while Orwell plays movies in his head to make stories on paper. Joan Didion takes a very different approach. She sees pictures “quite specifically…images that shimmer around the edges”(1). Sullivan’s ability to manipulate images by the structure of sentences is form working with content, interdependent on one another; “the picture tells you how to arrange the words and the arrangement of the words tells you what’s going on in the picture”(3). Didion’s story is shaped by her mental image and how it is described, and that creation is different than the political aims of Orwell and the stream of consciousness of Sullivan.
Writers begin work differently, which is something I never really paid much attention to. However, Sullivan, Orwell and Didion all write because they need to express themselves, as Didion writes, “…three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this: I, I, I”(1). All mention doing work to share their thoughts. So blogging isn’t the only thing that is driven in self-interest, self-expression; writing is too. In writing, maybe self interest is necessary.
I started by reading Orwell’s piece and immediately identified with his comment on how he initially produced “made-to-order stuff” for people when he wrote. I feel like that is the majority of what I end up writing, especially in the hectic college scene where I am required to churn out dozens of papers in a certain format. However, Orwell goes on to break down the reasons writers have the impulse to write when they are not being forced to. I thought his four reasons were very insightful. One of the only times I currently find myself not writing for class is when I jot down a sentence or two about my day in order to preserve my memories for later reflection. I feel like this tendency is similar to the “historical impulse” Orwell describes – I want to keep these facts/moments about my day for later use.
I found Didion’s piece to be humorous, yet a little hard to follow or relate to. Although I did not really identify with her comment that she writes to answer questions that she does not know the answers to, I found it intriguing and a great look into the mind of a published author.
Sullivan’s piece on why he blogs was refreshing because, until now, I have never blogged. It was fascinating to read his description and interpretation of what blogging is. I think I will try to remember his comment that blogging is “writing out loud” whenever I have to blog over the course of the writing minor. I appreciated the reasons he described for why he blogs and can see why this can be an appealing way to write and garner many readers and instant feedback. However, I sometimes find it hard to hear other’s criticisms, so I think that this could be a rude shock to me if I ever start blogging more religiously!
George Orwell’s statement “every book is a failure” is intriguing when related to his first motive of why writers write, sheer egoism. Acknowledging such a motive is honest, yet curious when revisited after reading the latter half of his publication. “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy…” is another bold claim by Orwell. It seems counterintuitive that Orwell would write about egoism and go on to list negative generalities categorizing writers. Why does he do this? I’m not sure, if I knew I’d write about it.
After reading Joan Didion’s “Why I Write” it occurred to me that perhaps what Orwell was trying to say Didion said when describing herself as a writer, “not a good writer or a bad writer, but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper.” In today’s competitive world there’s a need to sort everything and it’s refreshing to, at times, take things at face value – the ‘it is what it is’ approach.
In my opinion the most interesting remark in “Why I Blog” is when Sullivan compares logs to blogs and acknowledges that when reading a log the reader knows the ending before the writer ever had the chance. As he writes on I found myself paying less and less attention. I found the length of his article slightly painful. Just as he states that “no one wants to read a 9,000-word treatise online” apparently I do not want to read 5,230 words on why he blogs.
Of the three readings I found Joan Didion’s article, “Why I Write” to be most compelling and relatable. While I personally do not write entirely for the sole purpose to find out what I am thinking or feeling, I do agree that a work of writing is inspired behind this idea of the “shimmer” of an image within the writer’s mind. Didion emphasizes that these “shimmering” pictures poses great influence and power as she states, “it tells you. You don’t tell it”. Every word, sentence and phrase is dictated by this image, and collectively they tell you what is going on in the picture.
I found it to be very interesting how many aspects to a piece of writing can be completely made up, yet they are all motivated from a “shimmer” of an image. For example, Didion explains how she wrote her novel “Play It as It Lays” with only two pictures of mind. The first image was white space and the second was of young women. However, when she finished the novel, the story was fully developed with fictionalized people and places that extend far beyond the original white space and young woman. In fact, this is how Didion begins all of her novels “with no notion of ‘character’, or ‘plot’, or even ‘incident’”. I believe this technique can definitely be beneficially and helpful to keep in mind when writing myself. A “shimmer” of an image is not supposed to be overthought or scrutinized heavily. Instead this picture should be left to explore and further develop as you write.
This theory of the “shimmer” as a motivation for writing clearly intrigues me, but it also leaves me curious if other authors and writers feel the same way or if they even use the same technique when they approach writing. Is it possible that J.K. Rowling also never had any notion of character or storyline and that the Harry Potter stories were all developed from a “shimmer” within her mind?
I cannot say that I believe this is the best way to always write. As fun and interesting of a technique this style is, not developing or thinking too deeply about a “shimmering” image may only work best under certain circumstances like fictional stories. Other writings that can still be motivated from an image within the mind may be most effective when planned out and developed before they are written. For example, can this theory be applied to the writings of journalists and researchers? Are their works of writings inspired form a “shimmering” picture and if so do they follow Didion and “lie low and let them develop”? This is not to say that it is not possible for all writing to be motivated from a picture within, but I am definitely curious if this theory is relevant to all genres of writing.
Blogging has never appealed to me. My writing experience and style is rooted in more traditional journalism and other research-based writing. Naively, I thought that since the tenets of blogging were antithetical to more traditional writing, there was no place for it. Yet Andrew Sullivan makes a great case that the “free-form, accident-prone, less formal and more alive” aspects of blogging are to be embraced rather than be frowned upon. Sullivan admits that blogging cannot “provide permanent perspective” like more traditional forms of writing do, but this new form still has carved out an important niche.
Sullivan hails blogging as being “rich in personality.” Sure, arms of traditional writing such as reflective pieces, personal narratives and poetry could be personal, but a blog’s presence on the web and the bond a blogger has with readers is certainly unique; this writer-reader connection is unprecedented. After reading Sullivan’s piece, I have a restored appreciation for blogging and its presence as a form of writing.
Moreover, Sullivan’s piece seems to be a fitting evolution of what George Orwell and Joan Didion wrote in their respective pieces. Orwell’s relationship with readers is rooted in his own motives to write: “sheer egoism,” “aesthetic enthusiasm,” “historical impulse,” and “political purpose.” All of these motives deal with either the writer’s self-satisfaction or making an impact on the reader. Joan Didion also wrote about the personal stake in her writing, saying that it is “the act of saying ‘I.’ What motivated Orwell and Didion to write was their own gratification and the gratification of influencing others. In Sullivan’s world of blogging, those two spheres of motivation come together in a more direct relationship.